During the 2nd half of yesterday's NFC Championship game, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler left the game with a knee injury. His perceived lack of toughness caused a flurry of online criticism from fans, media members and fellow NFL players.
Since its inception, Twitter has become one of the most important tools in media for both breaking news and gathering instant feedback to that news. Yesterday's NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears was no exception, most definitively in the case of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler.
Sometime during the first half, Cutler injured his knee in what we know now to be a torn MCL. He stayed in for the remainder of the half, but only played one series in the second before leaving the game. What happened next was nothing short of astonishing.
Twitter exploded with criticism of Cutler, who was exhibiting a lack of toughness according to many including several fellow NFL players. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said, All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee... I played the whole season on one.
Not noted in Jones-Drew's Tweet was the fact that he himself sat out the last two games of the season with a knee injury -- games that, if the Jaguars had one, would have put his team into the playoffs.
ESPN analyst and three-time Super Bowl winner Mark Schlereth said, As a guy who had 20 knee surgeries you'd have to drag me out on a stretcher to leave a championship game!
Schlereth's comments are inline with the consensus of other NFL players and media members: Cutler's injury did not appear to be that extensive -- evidenced by his standing on the sideline without crutches and riding an exercise bike at one point during the third quarter -- so he should have shown toughness and reentered the game.
The issue of toughness and the warrior culture that is prevalent in the NFL are to blame for this response. While the criticism would not likely have been as vitriolic towards Cutler had it been reported sooner that he had torn his MCL -- Fox had two sideline reporters at the game and neither reported any knowledge of this fact -- it's an unspoken rule that NFL players are expected to man up, especially in situations such as yesterday when a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line.
One aspect of this story that leaves cause for optimism is that the everyone in the Chicago Bears organization stood by their quarterback. Coach Lovie Smith was quick to point out that it was a staff decision to bring Cutler out of the game and linebacker Brian Urlacher pointed out that many of the critics were not playing any more as their seasons or careers had already ended.
The degree of Cutler's MCL tear is not yet known (recovery time varies between 1 to 6 weeks), but he will undergo an MRI today. But, even though we'll soon know how long Cutler is expected to be sidelined, we won't know for sometime how much damage has been done to Cutler's reputation among fans and his peers. A reputation that was already quite perilous before Sunday.
However, as Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter points out, Cutler was on the verge of tears after hearing about the reaction from his NFL colleagues. That doesn't sound like the reaction of a man who wanted to leave the biggest game of his career. Not even slightly.